Shim Sang-jung, a veteran progressive politician, has taken helm of the minor opposition Justice Party, which is the most left-wing party that has seats in the National Assembly.
Shim, a two-term lawmaker, scored a come-from-behind victory over popular former lawmaker and party chief Roh Hoe-chan. She won 52.5 percent of the vote in a run-off poll, against Roh’s 47.5 percent.
She said her primary mission would be to realign the nation’s progressive forces -- used in Korea to describe groups positioned beyond the center-left -- and make them practice a progressivism that “feeds the people,” emphasizing the party’s policy switch toward practical politics which -- as she put it -- can be “attractive” to people.
Shim said the Justice Party would take the lead in realigning the progressive forces -- now roughly divided into the Justice Party, two labor activist groups and a political group led by former presidential candidate Chung Dong-young.
She mentioned her hope that the progressive party would get at least 20 lawmakers elected in next year’s parliamentary elections enabling it to become a parliamentary negotiating bloc.
This, in all respects, is a tall order. The Justice Party has only five lawmakers, with all but Shim being elected under the proportional representation system. Moreover, progressive groups in the country are in a virtual disarray, especially since the court-ordered disbandment of the far leftist United Progressive Party last year.
The Constitutional Court’s ruling to dissolve the UPP for its pro-North Korean platforms and activities dealt a blow to the progressive forces, who were building up clout solidly since the Labor Party sent its members to the parliament for the first time in 2004.
But as in the case of the UPP, progressive parties largely failed to live up to public expectations that they would make up for the shortfalls of the two-party system -- now consisting of a big conservative ruling party and a liberal main opposition party -- and become an alternative political group.
Many Koreans still identify progressive groups with radicalism, violence and blind faith in North Korea. Without a clear break from this tradition, Shim will not be able to achieve her goal of making her party a faithful representative of irregular workers, laborers, farmers and fishermen and urban poor.